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County to let state decide which businesses must close

IRON MOUNTAIN — Dickinson County should leave it up to state officials to decide who’s exempt from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s order for “non-essential businesses” to close through April 13, the county’s emergency services coordinator said Monday.

Acknowledging some businesses might operate that shouldn’t during the COVID-19 emergency, Schlitt said he recommends the county “stay out of that determination.” Businesses that stay open should write a letter stating their case in the event they’re challenged, Schlitt said during Monday’s county board meeting.

At the same time, Prosecuting Attorney Lisa Richards said her office will help facilitate complaints against businesses that disregard the order, forwarding them to the Michigan attorney general’s office for review.

As of late Monday afternoon, there were no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Dickinson County, Schlitt said. Based on information from the Dickinson-Iron District Health Department, there have been 15 negative tests and at least five are still out, he said.

Frustrated by rumors, Schlitt said official announcements on COVID-19 will come through local health agencies and state government. “Don’t look at Facebook, I’m saying,” he said.

Following suit with the federal and state governments, the county March 17 declared a local state of emergency in response to the coronavirus.

Schlitt had described the declaration as a proactive measure to inform state and federal officials that additional resources may be needed, including personal protective equipment and additional staffing.

“We’re trying to still get supplies in here,” he told the county board, noting downstate counties are taking priority. “We will eventually get those supplies.”

Meanwhile, Whitmer’s order for a statewide shutdown until at least April 13 could extend “a couple weeks” beyond that date, Schlitt speculated, adding, “That’s just a gut reaction.”

He echoed state officials in trying to ease anxieties about the stay-at-home order. “This is not martial law yet,” he said. The order has been described by state police as not a lockdown but a means to limit social contact, be responsible and help protect one another from infection.

Monday’s meeting took place with extra spacing between board members, officials and the media. Although the meeting was open, no other citizens were present.

Controller Brian Bousley said the board’s next scheduled meeting April 13 might be done through video-conferencing or tele-conferencing. Whitmer on March 18 temporarily relaxed the Open Meetings Act to permit public bodies to conduct meetings electronically — while also allowing public participation — through April 15.

In other action, the county board:

— Authorized regular compensation to county employees in the event they are furloughed during Whitmer’s stay-at-home order. Since Friday, the courthouse has been open to visitors by appointment only. The building will remain staffed, but some employees are working from home while others may be asked to take intermittent furloughs to limit interaction, Bousley said.

— Agreed to consider hazard pay for county law enforcement in light of the coronavirus but made no decision.

— Will hear a recommendation from Bousley at its next meeting on compensation issues for a handful of county employees who have been temporarily prohibited from the courthouse after recently returning from trips.

— Agreed to limit the public to passengers only within the Ford Airport terminal building until further notice. Traffic at the airport has “reduced quite a bit the past few weeks,” Bousley noted.

— Accepted the low bid of $42,000 from Sinclair Recreation of Holland, Mich., to supply and install playground equipment at Lake Antoine Park. The cost may be reduced by volunteer labor offered by employees of BOSS Snowplow, Bousley said. The project is aided by a Michigan Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund grant of up to $30,000.

— Adopted a resolution honoring Susan Khoury for 24 years of service on the Dickinson County Library Board, noting specifically her roles on the personnel, policy and building committees and as vice president of the board since 2000.

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